When did Kiev become Kyiv? Why the name of Ukraine’s capital city changed - and where it is on the map

The name ‘Kiev’ is a relic of the Soviet past - a closer resemblance to the Russian pronunciation of the city

The name of Ukraine’s capital in the English-language has been divided between the version resembling the country’s Soviet past and its present relationship with Russia.

Kiev has been the historic English-language name for the city, but its use is now dwindling because it is based on a historical Russian derivation of the name.

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine has partly prompted a shift to the official title Kyiv.

Here’s why there are different variations of the name of Ukraine’s capital, an explanation of the name that is widely used, and when the name officially changed.

Kyiv is now the proper spelling of Ukraine’s capital (Photos: Getty)

Why are there different versions of the name of Ukraine’s capital?

Known as Київ in Ukrainian and Киев in Russian, the city is today home to three million people.

The transliteration of the name into the Roman alphabet is not precise, and it could be spelled variously as Kyiv, Kiev, Kyyiv or Kiyev.

For much of recent history, Britons and Americans knew the city as “Kiev”, which was the standardised spelling under Soviet rule and continued to be used when Ukraine declared itself an independent country in 1991.

For younger Kyivians who are overwhelmingly supportive of pro-Western policies, the name “Kiev” is a relic of the Soviet past.

After Ukraine’s 1991 independence, regulations were introduced about the national guidance for transliterating place names from Cyrillic to Latin alphabets.

When did Kiev become Kyiv?

The spelling Kyiv was legally approved by the Ukrainian government in 1995.

Regulations applied to legislative and official acts and documents from Ukrainian officials, and was a clear sign of the spelling intended to be used - with the guidance called for Kyiv as the official name.

However, the name didn’t become a controversial issue until the 2014 Maidan uprising, which saw the ousting of the pro-Russian Viktor Yanukovych and the rise of a new administration seeking closer ties with the EU and NATO.

In 2018 the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched the “KyivNotKiev” campaign to seek the adoption of their preferred spelling, Kyiv, internationally.

The campaign targeted airports, embassies and international media still using the name “Kiev” for the city, with Ukrainians coordinating a mass of messages to English-language outlets requesting they adopt the new spelling.

The ministry declared: “Ukraine has been an independent sovereign nation for more than 27 years, but the Soviet-era versions of many geographic names stubbornly persist in international practice.

“The usage of Soviet-era place names – rooted in the Russian language – is unacceptable to the people of Ukraine.”

What name is widely used today? Kiev or Kyiv?

The combination of quiet pressure from Ukraine’s government and public campaigning has yielded results, with the US and UK governments embracing the spelling, Kyiv.

They have been joined by media including the BBC, the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Changes have also been made to the Associated Press and Guardian style guides – which is why readers are much more likely to see “Kyiv” in current reports.

Associated Press said at the time: “Although the AP prefers traditional English spellings for many cities, including Rome, Moscow and Warsaw (not Roma, Moskva and Warszawa), we regard the Ukrainian spelling of Kyiv as an important adaptation because it is linked to Ukraine’s present status.

“To many Ukrainians, the former spelling Kiev appears outdated because it is associated with a time when Ukraine was part of the Russian and Soviet states, rather than an independent country.”

How do you pronounce ‘Kyiv’?

The Ukrainian name Kyiv (Київ) is pronounced \KIH-\ as in kit, \yee\ as in ‘yield’, and ending with \-eev\ as in ‘Steve’.

The stress is on the first syllable.

However, no-one will think too badly of you if you continue saying \KEY-ev\, as it has long been pronounced, based on the ‘Kiev’ spelling.

Lyse Doucet from the BBC has drawn attention for the way she pronounced Kyiv in a recent interview.

Where is Kyiv on the map?

Graphic: Mark Hall

Kyiv lies in north-central Ukraine and is situated along the Dnieper River, just below its confluence with the Desna and 591 miles from its mouth in the Black Sea.

The city limits cover an area of 300 square miles on both banks of the river.

Kyiv is approximately 500 miles south-west of Moscow, the capital of Russia.

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